One in four maternity units don't offer foetal anomaly ultrasounds
One in four Irish maternity units do not offer pregnant women a foetal anomaly ultrasound, which is considered a routine part of antenatal care in other countries, a new study has shown.
Researchers at University College Cork (UCC) found there has been no expansion of maternity ultrasound services in the past decade, and warned substantial investment in the area was required.
All of the State's 19 obstetric units were surveyed as part of the study, which found that a foetal anomaly scan was offered universally to all women in just seven of the units.
They were offered selectively to some women in another seven of the units, while foetal anomaly scans were not offered at all in the remaining five maternity units.
Last year, around one-third of pregnant women were not offered routine foetal anomaly scans; while three of the units surveyed had no dedicated maternity ultrasound department.
The research paper noted a foetal anomaly ultrasound was part of the "widely accepted minimal schedule" of antenatal scans internationally, and was "a recognised and necessary component of good antenatal care".
"If a foetal anomaly is detected, planned delivery of the infant at the right time and in the correct place can be facilitated... which may ultimately reduce neonatal morbidity and mortality," stated the report.
"Diagnosis can also provide adequate time to psychologically prepare parents for the challenges of the pregnancy."
The authors noted their findings were similar to previous studies conducted in 2007 and 2012, demonstrating there has been no expansion in maternity ultrasound services in the past decade.
"If we are serious about equity of care and access to specialist services for all Irish women, regardless of geographical location or financial means, there must now be substantial investment by healthcare policymakers," they warned.
The provision of a foetal anomaly scan and a dating ultrasound to all pregnant women in the first trimester has been recommended by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) since 2000.
This two-stage approach was endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in 2008, and was also recommended in the National Maternity Strategy published by the Department of Health last year.